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Glatfelter Chillicothe, Ohio mill stack will get a fresh look

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio (From The Gazette) -- The iconic red-and-white paper mill smokestack that many people associate with Chillicothe is expected to get a fresh look later this year.

Sean Wallace, manager of the mill, said that the stack is undergoing improvements both inside and out.

The company has made a $25 million investment to bolster environmental controls on its No. 6 boiler, which burns primarily wood waste, and to convert boilers 7 and 8 from coal-burning to natural gas to improve its environmental footprint. The latter two boilers feed through the large red-and-white stack.

"Before we made that investment, we really wanted to inspect the integrity of the stack to make sure it was going to last a long time," Wallace said. "We did an inspection and came up with a repair plan, so we've been patching portions of it. We did about half of it last year and once the weather got a little bit colder and winter came, we put that on hold. This week, we just started continuing the repairs, we expect that to take another couple of months, and hopefully toward the end of the summer once repairs are complete, we'll repaint (the outside of the stack)."

Wallace gave no indication that there were any plans to change the color scheme of the stack.

While some fresh coats of paint speak to a change impacting the visual landscape for area residents, Wallace also noted an operational change that he feels will make it far easier for residents to share comments and concerns with plant management -- a Glatfelter Listens website that will contain reminders of future public meetings, a toll-free phone number manned 24 hours a day where concerns may be expressed and an online form that can be filled out to file a complaint.

"We're just rolling that out, part of the process tonight is to try and communicate that to the community so that if they have questions or concerns, they can contact us either via telephone at the 1-800 number or the Glatfelter Listens website," Wallace said. "We'd like to hear from our neighbors if they have questions or concerns and this allows easy access and it allows us a good opportunity to give them feedback if they have questions."

The quarterly public information sessions are another part of the desire for more community outreach, although the inaugural meeting at the Christopher Conference Center appeared to have more Glatfelter employees in attendance than members of the community. Those that did attend received some introductory remarks from Wallace about opening a dialogue with the community, some background on the company and its Specialty Papers division of which the Chillicothe mill is the largest component, and some background on the history of the local plant.

Attendees then worked through several stations representing various aspects of the Glatfelter operation, including environmental health and safety, forestry, community relations, papermaking and converting, products and customers.

Recognizing that several people single out the odor associated with the paper making process when discussing the plant, Glatfelter's Kathy Wiedeman showed data indicating reductions in sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide and greenhouse gas emissions since the boiler conversions have taken place and noted that the smell is an unfortunate byproduct of the pulping process.

"Although undesirable, an odor is not an indication of a health hazard," reads an odor fact sheet provided to attendees. "The presence of noticeable odors depends on the release of a sufficient amount of compounds to cause the odor, unfavorable weather conditions and the odor sensitivity of individuals."

Wallace said the company plans to conduct public information sessions four times per year to keep residents updated on factors that impact mill operations, environmental and safety programs, market conditions and to answer questions.

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